Lawmakers grill courts over Kentucky's ineffective victim notification system
Kentucky led the nation 27 years ago when it created a crime victim notification system called VINE.
Now, that potentially life-saving service is no longer working. VINE, which stands for Victim Information and Notification Everyday, provides free and automatic notices to victims about their offenders’ custody status and court dates through email, text, and phone calls.
In testimony on Thursday before the Kentucky legislature's Interim Judiciary Committee, Henderson County Attorney Steve Gold said victims began contacting his office in early 2022 that they could no longer sign up for notifications.
“It’s 2023," emphasized Gold. "Our victims can get automatic texts telling them their package is ten houses away. They should once again be able to get one when a court date changes.”
VINE stopped working in 2021 when the Kentucky Administrative Office of the Courts (AOC) and its vendor had a dispute over the collection and privacy of records. AOC Executive Director Katie Comstock told state lawmakers that instead of requesting victim-specific data, the vendor began asking to receive all court data. The two parties then signed a memorandum of understanding that states all court information must be deleted following searches. However, the company says it's been unable to do so, instead sending the information to another database.
"There was concern they would monetize and not protect the data," said Comstock. "That's a lot of confidential and important data."
Comstock told lawmakers that crime victims can still receive notices, but they’re no longer automatic.
Under a 2020 amendment to the state constitution, known as Marsy’s Law, crime victims have the constitutional right to timely notifications about all court proceedings, as well as the release or escape of accused offenders.
State Rep. Jason Nemes demanded a quick resolution.
"You need to get to court. This is not acceptable," stated Nemes. "Hold them accountable to the agreement they’ve already signed and that you think is acceptable. If they won’t do their job, sue them, but get it done now.”
Kentucky began using VINE in 1996 after Mary Byron of Louisville was killed by an estranged boyfriend who she thought was still in jail on charges of raping, assaulting and stalking her.